Abe must ditch di­lut­ing line for truly ‘un­shake­able’ apol­ogy

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s speech last Fri­day was keenly awaited for an apol­ogy. East Asian coun­tries were crit­i­cal, but for Ja­pan lo­cally, his enun­ci­a­tion was well­re­ceived, with Pew polls in­di­cat­ing his ap­proval rat­ings rose by 5 per­cent to 44 per­cent.

“In late April, the prime min­is­ter used “re­morse” but not “apol­ogy,” the Nikkei Asian Re­view said. And it is im­por­tant here that Abe made the im­prove­ment. The Nikkei Re­view fur­ther con­jec­tured that it was “sour­ing public opin­ion” that forced Abe to ex­press “apol­ogy.”

Credit should be given where it is due. Abe ut­tered the vi­tal “re­pen­tance” for Ja­pan’s ag­gres­sion dur­ing that hor­ri­ble con­flict, ad­mit­ting that hor­ri­ble wrong re­quires sor­row as well as be­seech­ment of for­give­ness.

“In­ci­dent, ag­gres­sion and war were waged, but now we shall aban­don colo­nial rule for­ever,” Abe said.

One line in Abe’s apol­ogy would have earned in­ter­na­tional fo­cus and earned the recog­ni­tion that Abe had apol­o­gized, had it not been un­der­cut and over­shad­owed by a cop-out line later in his speech.

“Ja­pan has re­peat­edly ex­pressed the feel­ings of deep re­morse and heart­felt apol­ogy for its ac­tions dur­ing the war ... that com­mit­ment will be un­shake­able into the fu­ture,” the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter de­clared.

That sen­tence up­held the sanc­tity and re­as­sur­ance of the Mu­rayama state­ment on the 15th an­niver­sary of the war’s end, wherein then-Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Tomi­ichi Mu­rayama stated his sin­cere apolo­gies to the na­tions that were hurt. It is also in the vein of pre­vi­ous apolo­gies by Ja­pan’s lead­ers.

Like Mu­rayama’s state­ment, Abe’s was a cab­i­net de­ci­sion, in­vok­ing the back­ing of the Ja­panese cab­i­net, and rep­re­sents of­fi­cial po­si­tion.

Yet, “We must not let our chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and even fur­ther gen­er­a­tions to come, who have noth­ing to do with that war, be pre­des­tined to apol­o­gize. Still, even so, we Ja­panese, across gen­er­a­tions, must squarely face the history of the past,” Abe said.

This con­founded the guar­an­tee to up­hold the au­thor­ity of past apolo­gies.

It is highly re­gret­table that Abe in­serted that highly provoca­tive sen­tence about fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Moral clar­ity should have in­stead been the over­rid­ing goal. He mud­dled an oth­er­wise qual­i­fy­ing speech. In fact, Michael Green, a scholar writ­ing for the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Stud­ies, an Amer­i­can think tank, even gave Abe the recog­ni­tion that he “sur­passed all pre­vi­ous state­ments by other post-war Ja­panese lead­ers, stress­ing ‘atone­ment,’ the ‘count­less lives lost’ in Ja­pan, Korea, China and South­east Asia, the suf­fer­ing of al­lied POWs, and ‘women be­hind the bat­tle­fields whose honor and dig­nity were se­verely in­jured.’”

What is im­por­tant is about the preven­tion of another path to war is ed­u­ca­tion, and a na­tional con­scious­ness of the clar­ity of the suf­fer­ing and re­spon­si­bil­ity that came with that war. What pre­cisely will the vic­tims be sat­is­fied with? That is a frus­tra­tion that is com­monly ex­pressed. The per­cep­tion of sin­cer­ity is most im­por­tant, and where Abe has fallen short — when the feel­ing of apol­ogy has been suf­fi­ciently con­veyed, peo­ple-to-peo­ple ten­sions will be dis­solved.

How to ex­press sin­cer­ity is a topic for dis­cus­sion, and per­haps through bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion and diplo­matic out­reach, ef­forts can be made to gen­er­ate heal­ing. A joint history pro­ject has fallen apart be­cause of de­bate be­tween Ja­pan and Chi­nese scholars over cru­cial facts in events such as the Nank­ing Mas­sacre. Ja­pan’s com­pen­sa­tion for women forced into pros­ti­tu­tion for the mil­i­tary, eu­phemisti­cally called “com­fort women,” should be re­vived de­spite Ja­pan’s line that it was part of com­pen­sa­tion done with the Re­pub­lic of Korea when the two coun­tries es­tab­lished ties.

His pat-on-one’s-own-back sen­tence of “ex­on­er­at­ing” younger gen­er­a­tions falls dan­ger­ously close to con­found­ing those very same gen­er­a­tions. Whether a fu­ture leader chooses to apol­o­gize is not up to Abe to de­cide; how­ever, that sen­tence is a dan­ger­ous in­vo­ca­tion to the young that un­der­cuts the sup­posed re­mem­brance of history that he put in the very next sen­tence.

Abe, or a fu­ture Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter, will have the op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect this un­for­tu­nate un­der­cut­ting of a solemn pledge to honor and peace, to heal wounds and to build a bet­ter world.

As a foun­da­tion stone for heal­ing, just apol­o­giz­ing, with­out pre­con­di­tions, with­out ex­pec­ta­tions of some­thing in re­turn, with­out need­less def­i­ni­tions of what the fu­ture should do and es­pe­cially not with­out ob­fus­ca­tion as to the need to re­mem­ber the na­tional bur­den — that would ex­po­nen­tially strengthen the apol­ogy.

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